Santos Dumont’s postcard – 07/18/2023 – Jorge Coli

At the beginning of the 20th century there was a type of postcard without images, in which one side was blank, intended for messages, and the other exclusively for the address. It was possible to write whatever you wanted on the blank side, or decorate it with drawings, depending on your whim.

A few years ago, by chance, in an online antique shop, I found one of these cards. Since it wasn’t expensive, I bought it.

I remember that this Thursday (7/20) marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Santos Dumont. We know of his exploits as a pioneer in air travel, but perhaps less of his intimate life, about which he was discreet.

The card I referred to reveals a little bit of it. On the free side, an image was made with great care: a caricature of Santos Dumont. So much care was taken that the figure of the aviator, standing, was cut out of cardboard, the head and straw hat drawn, but the body wearing clothes made of fabric: white pants and a fluffy jacket and, on the lapel, an adorable flower in fine pink fabric. Santos Dumont brings, under his arm, an airship marked with the number 8.

Feet were added to this little character, and the airship, basket and propeller, drawn in pen and ink on the card itself. The same ink, the same stroke, they write, at the top, so that it is clear, in capital letters: “Santos-Dumont”.

Furthermore, in the left corner, this ink and pen trace the dedication, in French: “J’espère avoir le plaisir de vous revoir bientôt”, that is, “I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you again soon”. Then “amitiés” – “friendship”, and the signature: S. Dumont.

A work of care that, I have no doubt, was done by Santos Dumont himself, very skilled with his hands.

He could have sent this card to some of his friends or acquaintances belonging to the very high society he frequented, such as Princess Isabel, who was interested in his aerial adventures. Or Louis Cartier, the famous jeweler who created a wristwatch for him in a model named after him, and which is said to be the first watch designed to be carried on the arm.

Or his friend, the multimillionaire Henri Deutsch de la Meuthe, who created a hefty prize for the first flying machine capable of making the journey from Saint-Cloud to the Eiffel Tower, round trip in less than half an hour, a prize snapped up by Santos Dumont with Airship #6.

Or the Duke of Talleyrand-Périgord, or the Marquis of Dion, or the famous Liane de Pougy, or the Count and Countess Greffulhe, who appear in a painting painted by Gervex in the Pré-Catelan restaurant, next to the aeronaut. Or even the famous tenor Enrico Caruso, who was an excellent draftsman and who made a very angular and serious portrait of the aviator.

Santos Dumont was very rich and lived in the most exclusive Parisian worldly circles of those times. But the person to whom he offered his own lovingly crafted caricature did not belong in that rich and elegant world.

The back of the card, where the recipient’s address is, tells us. First the stamp tells us the date: March 10, 1904. The inventor, aged 30, had already made his famous flights with dirigibles, but not yet with “heavier than air”, that is, his first airplanes.

Anyway, who was your correspondent? A certain Monsieur Rousseau, who lived in Matour, a town with just over a thousand inhabitants, about 400 kilometers southwest of Paris, in the department of Saône-et-Loire.

As the city is tiny, it was not necessary to write a detailed address, it was enough to indicate: “Receveur de l’Enregistrement”. I don’t think I’m making too many mistakes saying that this job is equivalent, more or less, to notary’s assistant; the one who takes care of stamps and recognized signatures.

Sometimes I think about going to Matour one day, just to see if I can find a trace in the archives of that Monsieur Rousseau, which I will certainly never do.

It is clear that this card has nothing to do with professional or business correspondence. Santos Dumont opens, with his “I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you soon”, a perspective, or a desire, for a continued relationship.

So far, that’s what I’m aiming for about this unique postcard. From here on out, it’s conjecture. Anyone who doesn’t agree, let them interpret it however they want.

In the chic names of the high circle that I mentioned above, close to Santos Dumont, is the extremely elegant Countess Greffulhe, the inspiring muse of Marcel Proust, who served as a model for his Oriane de Guermantes. The Parisian environment in which Santos Dumont evolves is very similar to the one created by Proust.

“In Search of Lost Time”, the saga written by Marcel Proust, contains many male homosexual characters – and even if not all of them are, in fact, homosexuals, many have had at least some experience of sex between men.

Among the frankly homosexuals is the Baron de Charlus, one of the protagonists, a multimillionaire aristocrat of very ancient lineage. He has a leading role in the book “Sodom and Gomorrah”, but permeates all moments of the story told by Proust.

If I remember the Baron de Charlus here, it’s because his loves are always directed towards the classes much lower than his: restaurant waiters, hotel waiters, dogs, cab drivers. Jupien, who accompanied him into senility, caring for him, is a tailor, and even Morel, violinist, and Charlus’s great passion, is of popular origin. In “O Tempo Reencontrado”, the Baron de Charlus appears whipped in a male brothel by young men coming from the countryside and paid for it.

This sexualized relationship of social exoticism —the attraction to lower-class partners— is not unique to Charlus. It is almost a kind of norm in homosexual society, according to the very numerous examples that Proust describes.

At the age of 23, Marcel Proust found love with Reynaldo Hahn, a musician and from a social class close to his own. This connection will turn into an intimate and lasting friendship. But Proust will later have a violent attraction for Alfred Agostinelli, his chauffeur.

When Agostinelli leaves him, Proust, who knew that the boy was passionate about aviation, is willing to buy him a plane and thus make him come back. But he didn’t have time: off Antibes, Agostinelli was piloting a plane that crashed into the sea. To a friend, Proust wrote about the accident: “a being I loved deeply died at the age of 26, drowned”.

Santos Dumont and his correspondent Rousseau, a notary clerk, had, quite possibly, a love affair. Perhaps Rousseau went to Paris on vacation, and left a trace in the heart of Santos Dumont, who sends his elaborate card in the hope of a future reunion.

#Santos #Dumonts #postcard #Jorge #Coli

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